Imagine the Unimaginable.
by Ellen Fruchtman, President
In 1999 one guy named Nick Swinmurn was walking around a mall looking for shoes. One store had the right size, but not the right color. Another store had the right style, but not the right size. The task of finding a simple pair of shoes was anything but simple. So, he went online. Again, he was unsuccessful. Unafraid of doing something different (and recognizing there really was no player in the online shoe space), Nick quit his job and started what is now known as Zappos. The goal? Provide the best online store with every brand, style, color and sizes along with the best service possible. If he listened to outside forces, he would have heard things like, “People want to try on shoes, no one will buy online.” Or, “You have to try on a shoe before you think about buying it. No one will buy online.” Nick imagined the unimaginable.
In 2008, a couple of guys in Paris had trouble hailing a cab during a snowy night. They came up with a simple idea: Tap a button and get a ride. What started as a simple app to secure rides in metropolitan areas, evolved into reliable transportation for people across the world – without the high-ticket price of a traditional cab. It also became one of the largest job creators – employing thousands of men and women throughout the world. Its name is UBER and it changed the way people think about transportation. If these guys asked people around them what they thought of the idea, they may have heard things like, “There are tons of cabs and private car services. Why do we need this?” Or they may have heard, “How are you getting drivers and people to participate? It seems so complicated!” But, instead, they imagined the unimaginable and started UBER. Who wants to pay the freight for a cab these days?
In 2010, a college student lost his glasses while backpacking. The cost was so prohibitive for him to replace his glasses, this grad student squinted his way through his next semester. Recognizing the eyewear industry had virtually no alternatives, and retailers cornered the market on exorbitant pricing, the student gathered some friends and started what is known as Warby Parker. If they listened to outside forces, they may have heard things like, “No one has been able to change the eyewear market”. Or, “People need to try on glasses in person to see how they look on their face. No one will buy glasses online”. They circumvented the normal channels and were able to provide high-quality prescription eyewear at a fraction of the price. And, if that wasn’t enough, they took their success and passed it forward by providing a pair of glasses for every one sold to a person in need. They imagined the unimaginable. Now Warby Parker exceeds a value of $1.2 billion dollars.
There’s a common thread. Aside from imagining the unimaginable, all of these individuals (and companies) used technology to provide people what they want, and more importantly, when they want it. It’s not about building a better mousetrap; it’s about building a different mousetrap. Or possibly throwing the mousetrap out the door! As an industry, we haven’t thought of the unimaginable. Blue Nile did, and they are continuing to navigate those waters. It’s not perfect. But, they continue to reimagine. Instead of dismissing what they did, take a hard look in the mirror and ask yourself would you have ever imagined that idea in 1999? At the very least, give them kudos for having the guts to change the paradigm. Beyond selling online, what has really changed in the way you conduct business? If you’re doing business online (and most of you are not), you’re simply playing catch-up to the other person’s unimaginable idea! No one is taking a look from the consumer perspective and asking, “What do my customers really want?” “What will turn this business upside down?” “What unimaginable thought is imaginable?” I have a few ideas. I’m simply looking for some very bright people who might imagine it with me.
Are you one?